Was Peter a Pope? If he was, and Popes are infallible then why did Paul “call him out on the carpet” for treating Gentiles differently when the Jews were present in Galatians 2? Why, when Peter is present, does James appear to lead the Church in Acts 15?

Let me just deal with these two first, and then I will deal with Peter’s authority.

The Church does not teach that a Pope is infallible in all things. I can say that Jupiter is the smallest planet and be wrong, and at the same time speak infallibly that 2+2=4. That does not make the equation untrue, and it does not speak about me being infallible at all. Likewise, the Pope can pronounce that the canon of the New Testament are the 27 books that we are all familiar with, but still err in other things in his life. Peter preached the infallible truth in Acts 15 that Gentile believers did not need to conform to Jewish ceremonial law, however he erred as a man in the way he treated the Gentiles as reported by Paul in Galatians.

In Acts, notice that James’ decision and instruction was derived soley by the statement of Peter. Peter was acting as the head of the Church, while James was directing his “bishopric” the Jerusalem council, under the authority of Peter.

Now as to Peter himself. The most important verses in the Bible on this are when Jesus asked Peter (then still named “Simon”), “Who do you say that I am?” and he answered back, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt. 6:16, Mark 8:29, Luke 9:20). Jesus words back to him in Matt 6:18-19 is where the controversy comes in. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Plain reading in English appears to support the Catholic position. Protestents will remind us that the New Testament was written in Greek, not English. If you look at the Greek words for Peter and rock they appear as follows in order: πετρος (petros), and πετρα (petra). Petros is a small stone, and petra is a huge boulder. Petros is masculine, and petra is feminine. For these reasons, Protestants say that Jesus could not have meant that he was building the Church on Peter (the small stone), but on himself (the large boulder), the Rock of our Salvation.

However you have to remember that although the gospel was written in Greek, Jesus was speaking in Aramaic! Therefore the Greek text of Scripture is translated. Jesus own words are what we should look to. There is only one word that Jesus would have used when talking to Peter. That word is Kepha (large boulder), used elsewhere by St. Paul in the New Testament as Cephas. That is how we know that Jesus actually used this word, not Petros for Peter’s new name. So what Jesus actually said was, “You are Cephus, and on this Cephus I build my Church.” Or in English, “You are Boulder, and on this Boulder I build my Church.” Matthew uses the Greek words that he does, because he needed to the word petra to convey the size of the rock. He used petros for Peter’s name because petra is feminine, and is inappropriate as a man’s name. He would have regarded this as adequate as the early Church fully understood that Peter, Cephas, was the Rock on which the Church is built.